The tree of happiness flowers and fruits most abundantly for the creative man
EARLY DAYS IN MANOR GARDENS
As remembered by Mrs. Phyllis Reim who resided at # 71 Manor Drive. Phyllis’ son, Chris Reim, still lives in the house that Phyllis and his father Ernest built in 1924. Phyllis lived all her life after 1924 in Manor Gardens and died one month short of her 99th birthday. In the charming photograph below – taken circa 1940, we have a view up the hill to the Reim’s house and the Reim family in front of their motor car.
I want to thank Chris Reim for sharing this document with me and allowing me to distribute it to the Manor Gardens Community.
I have added additional history to Phyllis Reim’s memoirs in (Green) text.
Regards – Graham Leslie McCallum
The suburb of Manor Gardens was developed in the early 1920’s as as the ‘Manor Gardens Estate’ (see image above) as being a former portion of the farm ‘Cato Manor’. This was the farm of Natal Pioneer and Personality George Christopher Cato, who was awarded the land by the British Crown and Administration in 1847 for his services and loyalty to the Colony of Natal and to the Crown. George had been imprisoned in 1842 at Pietermaritzburg (the fledgling capital of the so-called Republic of Natalia) set up by the johnny-come-lately Voortrekkers, and treated rather shabbily. The Trekkers who had arrived from across the Drakensberg after having left the Cape of Good Hope had the intention of taking Natal for themselves, this regardless that English Settlers had already laid claim to the Bay of Natal and its surrounds some time before. They immediately began the task of cutting up the land as farms for themselves, and this accounts for many of Natal farms carrying Dutch names to this day. In an attempt to drive the British from the port, they marched from Pietermaritzburg to Durban and set up their military camp at Congella at the headland of the Bay from where they attempted to impose their authority. Unfortunately for the Trekkers – they had not taken into account the likes of George Cato, Dick King and Captain Smith who apposed their plans. Cato – for his temerity, was locked into the stocks in Pietermaritzburg. After the British fumbling at the Battle of Congella and the subsequent Siege of Captain Smith’s camp, the Trekkers were sent packing, and most left Natal for the Transvaal and Orange Free State. Those who remained became ‘loyal’ Natalians, that is, until the 2nd Anglo-Boer War when anti-English sentiments led many into rebellion. Cato was released from prison and returned to Durban where he became a very successful businessman and becoming Durban’s first mayor.
The stocks in which Cato was placed.
An early map of Durban. The farm Cato’s Manor (Cato Manor) can be seen in the top left hand corner of the image.
Cato had originally set up shop and house on a piece of land adjacent to Cato Creek when he arrived at Port Natal. This creek drained the vast Eastern Vlei, emptying its waters into the Bay of Natal. The present location is were the Tugboat Quay is located. Of interest, Cato creek still empties its waters at this spot, having been covered along its course with large concrete slabs. Here, he built his first home called Linwood Villa. On taking ownership of his grant, he named it ‘Cato’s Manor’. ‘Cato’s Manor’ was located on the landward side of the Berean Ridge, and he built his house just below the crest where Manor Gardens and the University of KwaZulu Natal is located today. This country house was built in the style typical of early Natal buildings, with wattle and daub walls, a thatched roof and overhanging verandahs. In 1887 his Cato Manor estate was valued at 24 248 pounds and by 1887, at 30 000 pounds, a considerable sum at the time.
Linwood Villa, the town home of George Christopher Cato, photographed in the 1950’s. This historic home, like much of everything in Durban, was destroyed.
Cato Creek, Bay of Natal, Durban.
Map of the farms in the vicinity of the Bay of Natal. Note Cato Manor and the position of the present suburb of Manor Gardens.
A photograph of Cato’s Manor Farmstead. This dwelling was positioned on the landward slope of the Berean Ridge, which can be seen in the background of the image, where Manor Gardens is located today.
In his latter life, Cato began to sell-off much of his extensive property. The upper end of ‘Cato’s Manor’ bordering on South Ridge Road became freehold property in 1869, and several large private estates were positioned here, one of them being the Manor Garden’s Estate Limited.
At the turn of the century, developers promoted one of these subdivisions, the Manor Garden’s Estate as a ‘Health Area’, an escape from the hot and busy city, and a fine suburb to build a modest house and settle.
Surveyors divided up the land into long and narrow plots, averaging 1 rood in size (quarter acre). Today this layout causes problems when drive-ways are constructed, however, on a positive note, – it has prevented Manor Gardens from the subdivision and over development characteristic of neighbouring Glenwood. The Deed of Transfer below is that of 89 Manor Drive, Manor Gardens. Several sand roads were created to give access, the first being Manor Drive which snaked down the landward side of the Ridge. It was many years before these roads were hardened. This new suburb fell without the Durban Municipal and residents did not pay rates.
The image below is an aerial photograph taken in 1936, several years after the Reim Family built their home. Their house can be seen above Manor Drive as it winds down and into the valley (note. the Reim house with bright white roof in top left hand quadrant of photo’). My home lies 4 houses to the right of the Reim House and across the road are the wood and irons built around the same time. Notice how
Clair Avenue has not been developed and the area now occupied by houses off Elland Road, across the valley, are still to be developed after the 2nd World War. A larger Pigeon Valley can be seen in the photograph in the top right quadrant, as can the small stream that ran down the valley, where the road Archer Crescent is now. This tributary joins-up with the stream that drains Cato Crest and that feeds into the larger Umbilo River where Francois Road is today.
Phyllis Reim began her account in 1924…
In 1924 we were looking for a site to build a house. Manor Gardens was countrified then, and remote because the nearest tram terminus was in Glenwood at the corner of McDonald and Chelmsford Roads (Chelmsford Road took its name from General Lord Chelmsford, who commanded the British Forces during the Anglo-Zulu War). This meant a steep climb, first up McDonald Road and then along South Ridge Road to reach Manor Gardens. (South Ridge formed the boundary of Durban Town, everything to the west of this road was beyond the municipal zone for many years). Only the young and able-bodied settled in Manor Gardens.
Alternatively, we could walk from a distant tram stop on Berea Road, along Chelmsford Road, into Maze Road (Maze Road took its name from the maze in Sam Deane’s garden).
‘The Maze’ was flanked by green paddocks on the right, that provide grazing for Mr. Sam Deane’s cows. Then it was on to the gates of ‘The Maze’ (now St. Henry’s School) on South Ridge Road. (Helen Frances Winsing bought the property from Cato in 1874. Winsing sold the property to Captain Walter Lloyd in 1876. On Lloyd’s death in 1881 the estate was sold to well known Draper William Richard Cowey the son of Natal Pioneer William Cowey, for the sum of 1087 pounds. Cowey built ‘The Maze circa 1880. When Cowey died in 1914 the property was sold to David Don).
There was once a real maze on their property, originally the home of Mr. Don, who bequeathed his fine library to the city of Durban. (David Don came to Durban from India and the East in the late 1890′s, entered the sugar industry and became co-director of the Natal Estates with Sir Marshall Campbell. He was a member of the Natal Legislative Council in 1896 and a noted bibliophile, who amassed a wonderful library of Africana which after his death, he bequeathed to the Durban Town Council in 1915 and is now housed in the Don Africana Library. David Don’s wife inherited the property on his death and she sold it in 1919 to the Rouillard family for 8000 pounds. In 1829 the property was sold to the Marist Brothers for the sum of 16 850 pounds and established as a school (present St. Henry’s, below).
Walking up South Ridge Road, one passed the old established home of Mr. W. B. Jasques (pronounced Jakes, the owner who lived there for many years) the owner of a big area where cows grazed at the back on land now the sports fields of St. Henry’s School. On the crest of the hill, next to Charles Grove, was the home of Sir Charles Smith (Manor House). Sir Charles (George) Smith, Senator and Sugar Baron built his mansion in 1904. Smith established the ‘Emma Smith Scholarship’. He also donated the bells to the church St. Mary’s, Greyville. His chauffeur’s cottage and his stables were situated on land at the back of his property (now the garages to Mrs. King’s house #32 Manor Drive and the land that is now the Manor House Flats – 274 South Ridge Road). His Estate Manager lived in a house that is now the property of the Groblers of # 4 Glenroy Road). Later, Mr. and Mrs. Holland lived in the ‘Manor House’cottage. Mrs. Holland was Lady Smith’s sister. Later still, the stables were converted into a cottage, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Harry Gander. Mrs. Gander, (formally Miss Adele Fillis) was a famous equestrienne of Fillis Circus (wife to Frank Fillis who owned Fillis Circus. (Mrs. Gander, formerly Fillis was known as ‘Madame Fillis’. She was an equestrienne of note and performed haute e’cole. After her divorce she established the ‘Madame Fillis Circus’ in Durban in 1910. She acted in the film ‘Copper Mask’ shot in South Africa, as Aurora Stone, and was required to dive 4m into a river (1919).
Sir Charles George Smith.
At number 298 (now the entrance and land of Tuscany Grove Complex) a drive led to Mr. Walter Short’s new home, for many years prior, the home of Judge Fannin and his wife. (The Honourable Denis Gower Fannin was a descendant of Thomas William Fannin, Natal Settler who first resided in the Dargle Valley, Midlands). Finally, on the corner of Manor Drive, were three asbestos cottages (# 302 the home of Cecilia Bratt-Erikson / #314 the home now of the Murray family and #306 the home now of the Omarjee family. The only survivor of these original houses is the charming home of Cecilia. Of interest, a previous resident of Manor Gardens was the well known geologist Lester King, who discovered a 50 000 year old stone age axe on the property now # 314 South Ridge Road. It is evident that this was considered a fine spot to live in the distant past as well).
On the opposite side of South Ridge Road, stood only two homes (now # 328 and # 299/299 and 301), built on the crest. Firstly Mr. Walter Short’s home, originally occupied before the war by Sir Brian and Lady Robertson, and secondly the big property of Mr. Maurice Evans, next to Pigeon Valley Bush (this property was divided up and its entrance now is a private road at the top of Ellis Brown Road). General Smuts was often a guest of Sir Brian Robertson. (Mr. Paul Brown, who once resided for several years at Tuscany Grove and who as a child lived at #304 South Ridge Road, remembers talking to General Smuts at the gate to the Robertson’s on South Ridge Road).
Manor Drive was the entrance to the bare grassy hills and valleys to the estate. (note. the area consisted mostly of grasslands with pockets of indigenous bush, Most of the forest and bush would have been cleared by George Cato in the preceding 70 years). Only two roads (Manor Drive and Clair Avenue) had been hardened. Along these two roads the first homes of brick or of wood and iron were been built. (Manor Gardens was marketed as a health area, were one could escape from the bustle and heat of the City and the Berea. One could take advantage of the breezes that swept the hill tops. Many of these homes were built with sleeping rooms with sturdy wooden trellised openings that allowed the cooling night breezes in. (One would imagine the mosquitoes took advantage of this arrangement too).
Deliveries by the brick companies (Mayville Bricks situated on the Farm ‘Brickfield’ located near present Brickfield Road) in those early days stopped at the gates of ‘The Maze’ where their loads were dumped. The bricks were then transferred into Indian owned scotch carts drawn by mules for delivery to the house sites in Manor Gardens. All properties were a quarter acre in size.
In 1925 we built our house, looking like a white box on a steep grassy slope facing inland, next to the attractive Dutch Gabled home of Mr. H. Thorpe, who had been there since 1923 (now # 67 Manor Drive and extent).
Photograph of Phyllis, her husband Ernest Reim and their two children in front of their home (No. 71) in the 1930’s.
(Henry James Thorpe immigrated to Natal in 1921 aged 45 from England). We paid no rates, but had the essential services of water and electricity supplied by the Durban Corporation. Soon the Mayville Health Board was formed whose levy of 3 pounds a year provided householders with rubbish removal services and we could fill in the rubbish holes in our gardens. (While excavating my garden I came across such a tip, filled with old bottles, broken kitchen ware and rusty tins). In 1931 the land areas inland from Ridge Road were incorporated into the Durban Municipality and our rates began to increase. (One wonders what Mrs. Reim would have thought of our new rate increases).
In the valleys below Manor Gardens were the occasional mango tree planted earlier by Indian tenants, even a jackfruit tree and rows of kus-kus grass to retain the soil, and even small stray cotton plants. (Cuscus Grass – Vetiveria zizanioides, Called Vetiver, it is a perennial grass of the Poaceae family, native to India. In western and northern India, it is popularly known as khus. It is evident from Mrs. Reim’s memoirs that by the 1920′s, much of the inland slope of the Berean Ridge was degraded by deforestation, overgrazing and unscrupulous farming).
Some of these Mango trees are to be seen today in the Msinsi Reserve. Also, just above the oval cricket field to the lower UKZN sports fields, is an old jack fruit tree that still produces abundant fruit. This could possibly be the jackfruit tree that Mrs. Reim mentions. Many Indian residents who lived in the area below Manor Gardens worked at the University until they were resettled during the early 1950’s by the Nationalist government. Deforestation, overgrazing and the planting of cotton, sugar cane and vegetable gardens had destabilized much of the steep rear land to the Berea. The area now called Howardene was severely eroded. Residents, Chris Reim and Trevor Morty recall that these dongas were a favourite play area for the boys of Manor Gardens. Eventually the dongas were filled up with the spill excavated from the Toll Gate N3 cut-through, opening up this area for residential development.
Areas of the valley (once the property of Mr. Cato) had been planted with sugar cane from 1860 and called the Cato Manor Sugar Estate. This plantation of 400 acres (the closest sugarcane estate to Durban town and located below where Manor Gardens and the University of KwaZulu Natal is today) operated a steam mill that was erected circa 1862, producing blocks of quality brown sugar that were exported to the Cape Colony where they were popular. The mill appears to have closed down in 1896 as references to the Cato Manor Sugar Estate disappear from the records.
Further along the ridge was an isolated small wood and iron cottage that we were told was once the overseer’s home of Mr. Cato’s Sugar Mill in the valley below. (This structure is visible in the aerial photograph (above) bordering on the triangular section of Stellawood).
The presence of cotton plants were a remnant of the attempt to create a cotton industry in Natal. Many of our residents with German surnames will have descended from the ‘Cotton Germans’. These were the German immigrants brought to Natal to establish cotton farms and mills. This cotton growing project failed. Fortunately, almost all the new immigrants stayed on to make an important contribution to Natal and South Africa). Many settled in Westville and New Germany where they established vegetable farms.
Mr. Short told me of a heavy downpour of rain in 1928 when he watched soil washing away in the valley below, now stabilized as Queen Elizabeth Avenue with houses. To the left, on the flat ground, about where the Mandene Sports grounds are today, stood Moodley’s Store. At the time a large community of Indian homes inland, provided us with a grandstand view of the fireworks display during Deepavali, the Festival of Lights. Beyond them again were the hills and valleys of Westville, then bare grassy slopes and the farms of a few early German Settlers. One homestead stood out, marked by a huge auracara tree (Monkey Puzzle tree).
At night it was absolutely pitch dark, the only lights coming from a few houses and railway stations along the Old Main Railway line to Pinetown. (This road and rail was developed along what was called the Old Dutch Road. This was the track used by the Voortrekker arrivals and led from Congella were the Dutch camp was situated near the head to the Bay to Pietermaritzburg. Suburbs such as Seaview, Bellair and Hillary developed along this rail and road line as well as the boroughs of Queensburgh and Pinetown. Below are photographs of Seaview, Malvern and Bellair railway stations).
Seaview and Railway line photographed in 1911.
Photograph of Bellair and Bellair Station.
This is a big change to the outlook of Westville today (a borough since 1956). Now it has a wooded appearance, with homes, schools, shops, traversed by three main roads, and at night, bright lights in every direction. We noticed how the original grasslands disappeared when homes were built.
Manor Gardens in 1925 was remote from shops. It had a general store in Clair Avenue which also gave us limited postal facilities where stamps were sold and at first, we collected our post from here. (This property is now # 18/ 16 and 14 Clair Avenue). But we had great advantages in daily deliveries to our kitchen doors of bread, milk and meat.
A Milk Delivery man.
Later we bought milk wholesale from a dairyman, Mr. Jordan of Cato Manor, two and six a gallon, poured into our own containers and boiled as it was not pasteurized. We could see his cows grazing on the hill slopes on 15 acres of ‘pickings’ as he said. Indian hawkers too, brought fruit and vegetables to our homes in enormous baskets (tastefully displayed).
All these conveniences were indispensable to us with small children and no cars. In the early days of 1925 and later, as far as I can remember, only Mr. Thomson of 34 Clair Avenue (now the Reid/Robinson household) owned a car in Manor Gardens. In their home too, on Sunday afternoons, Mr. and Mrs. Thomson collected many local children to their Sunday school. The lawn in front of their house provided a small croquet lawn, flood lit at night for young people from their church to play on. In the day time, it was a lovely view of the Pigeon Valley tree tops framing a view of the Bay, the Bluff and ocean beyond.
Mrs. Linscott (An early resident of Manor Gardens) remembers that the only flat place boys could play cricket on, or where some could fly kites, was the top of the hill that was to become the Elland Road area. Many wild Guava trees grew on the grassy inland slopes behind Howard College attracting small boys in their fruit season. They would go home satisfied and with their shirts bulging with extra fruit. I also remember the occasional bonus of mushrooms sprouting through the grass after rain. Another recollection of Mrs. Linscott was of the sluggish stream beside Bellair Road topped with bright green watercress, where Mr. Linscott would pick his weekly bunch of watercress for the many canaries he bred. This stream now flows hidden in huge pipes to join the marshy valley leading to the Umbilo River.
After the war the Elland Road house sites were surveyed, with Eland Road placed on the top of the hill and houses having level access to the road and their gardens sloping down to Queen Elizabeth Avenue. Miss. Daniell’s home was the pioneer of that community and later a few shops were built on the corner of Elland Road and Helston Road. Mrs. Marks, (daughter to Phillis Reim) recalls that a branch of the library operated from this intersection. Hardened roads, electric lights and water extended the available housing sites after the war.
In these earlier days, an enterprising man, Mr. Cousins, created a fine corner house site from a very steep slope by placing three parallel rows of forty four gallon drums, one above the other. Red soil was carted from the reservoir excavated on the corner of South Ridge Road, on the Entabeni Hospital Grounds, tipped down the slope covering the drums, making three terraces. This house too, was the first known to me into which fine carved teak doors and stained glass windows were built, these saved from demolished buildings.
Another early builder was Mr. Bryden who was said to have used the foundation of a former cow byre for his big dwelling, hoping to use the corner rooms as a shop, but no licence was allowed. He roofed his house with the slates removed from Mr. Cullingworth’s Printing Office in Smith Street when it was demolished to make way for the erection of Prince’s Bioscope in about 1924. In still earlier days, slates from Cornwall were imported as ballast in sailing ships on their way to Natal. (Chris Reim believes this house to be # 62 on the corner of Helston and Elland Road). Prince’s Cinema was opened 26/7/1926 in Durban by African Consolidated Theatres) and used as a bioscope for many years. Acquired by NAPAC and in 1986 incorporated into the 5-venue complex known as the Natal Playhouse.
A feeder bus service was provided from the Glenwood tram terminus to the corner of Manor Drive and Glenturret Road (post 1945) with a fare of six pence.
Old buses provided hilarious incidents to look back on. But it was very trying for tired or nervous travelers. They remember times when the old bus lost a wheel, or failed and began to run backwards down South Ridge Road, or worst of all catch alight. Sometimes after passengers had paid their six pence, the bus refused to start. Some got out and walked, but others, too tired, sat on and waited for the replacement bus to arrive. In time, buses from town (replaced the trams and feeder service) and traveled through Manor Gardens to the new terminus in the valley on Queen Elizabeth Avenue. (The present cut-through from South Ridge Road to Queen Elizabeth Avenue came much later).
In the last years of the 1920’s, when a site was being sought for Durban’s University College, Lt. Colonel Godfrey Hurst at times would conduct selected citizens through the dense ‘Stella Bush’ on Sunday mornings to show them the commanding site where later Howard College was built. On their return there might be cool refreshment awaiting them on the corner of Manning and Mc Donald Roads, now a nursing home where the houses ended, as only bush was beyond until near Umbilo. (This building was for originally the Glenwood Police Stations, now the Dermatological Institute). Stella Bush was an almost unbroken stretch of indigenous forest from Mc Donald Road (this road was named after an early pioneer family who lived in the area prior to 1856) to near Stellawood, except for the sandy tracks cut by the high wheeled market carts of Indian Vegetable Farmers traveling through the leafy tunnels to the metalled Durban roads and onwards to the Indian Market. (Stellawood was named by the Council in 1925 after the Stella bush that once comprised a large area from McDonald Road, across to the Umbilo River behind what is today the UKZN, and in southern direction up to Queen Mary Avenue in Umbilo. Sadly the only remnant now left is Pigeon Valley and the small section of natural bush below Princess Ann Place in Manor Gardens, bordering the homes of the Attenborough’s, Boyds, and Martin’s. This small section is still home to the ancestors of the mongooses that Mrs. Reim saw all those years ago. It also sports what is probably the largest Acacia Robusta in the Durban area).
During 1930, King George V was bulldozed out and through the the upper boundary of Pigeon Valley to join the extension to South Ridge Road (The South Ridge extension now borders houses such as that of Jeremy Grest’s, now # 322 South Ridge Road and the Gilmore and Bebington households at #310 and 314 South Ridge Road). It continued along the valley’s upper boundary, through the bush and grassland to the Howard College site. (Before this road was built it was just a track through the trees). In those early days, this was a favourite grassy walk for Manor Garden families at weekends. Monkey families could certainly be seen in the trees, rarely a piti buck, and once I saw a couple of mongooses crossing Ridge Road back to Pigeon Valley. There were always many birds in the fine indigenous trees and ‘asparagus fern’ was picked and carried to our homes for Christmas decorations. The hunting call of the Flufftail (White Winged Flufftail) bird could be heard, mystifying many of us. (All of these creatures are still to be found in and around Manor Gardens).
Asparagus Fern Asparagus virgatus, Broom Asparagus, photographed at Msinsi Nature Reserve.
A Vervet Monkey from the Manor Gardens troop photographed in my garden.
Howard College, the gift of Mr. T.B. Davis (a prominent Durban businessman) to the University, and built in memory of his son Howard, faced the city bay on the Ridge. (Howard Davis was killed in action during World War 1 during the Battle of the Somme. Interestingly, there is a garden on the island of Jersey called Howard Davis Park in his memory as well, that contains a sculpture of King George V who was a yachting competitor of T.B. Davis. Howard’s father had hailed from this Channel island).
The only hardened access road for building material up to the Howard College building site was up the steep Deodar Avenue, leading into Howard Avenue. King George V Avenue was hardened only later.
Thus ends Phyllis Reim’s memoir.
The aerial photograph (above) taken in 1936 records the land facing area of the Berean Ridge looking towards the city of Durban and the Bay with the Bluff beyond. Note the Mango orchard in the foreground with its regularly planted lines – this is the location of the Msinsi Nature Reserve today. This and the grassy area to the left of the orchard. Surviving Mango trees in the 1980′s were ringbarked to remove these exotics, however, a few of these Mango trees survived today as well as one Jackfruit tree. I argue to leave a few of these trees as an historical link to the past.
The beginnings of the suburb Manor Gardens can be seen on the far left of the photograph to the immediate vertical left of Howard College. The Indian settlement of Cato Crest is visible in the lower left hand corner of the image. This area later named Umkhumbane by Black settlers from the stream that lies near by was the scene of the 1959 riots. Many of the former Indian residents of this settlement worked at the fledgling University of Natal. until the community was cleared during the social engineering efforts of the Nationalist Government of the 1950′s, 1960′s and 1970′s. The rest of the poplulation worked as vegetable and fruit growers. The produce would be driven by cart or carried in baskets up the valley and taken along forest paths through Stellawood to the European suburbs of Glenwood and Umbilo for sale. These small agricultural plots are visible in the foreground.
It is now sad and tragic to realize how much of the original Berean virgin forest (Stellawood) has been lost to housing and development. It is also evident in this photograph (from the straight line of forest just to the fore of the college) that the western slopes were cleared of their forested cover. This is the reason why this zone today wants to revert to forest from grasslands. Even the suburb of Manor Gardens has become one of the most verdant and wooded suburbs of Durban.